Why nurturing a social innovation workforce is critical for solving Australia’s toughest challenges

Imagine if social innovation was as popular as surf lifesaving, gaming or football. This is our vision; a world where leaders, practitioners, communities and children are nurtured to be the problem solvers of the future.


12 August 2022


Chris Vanstone
, Chief Innovation Officer, TACSI

At TACSI, we’ve learnt that social innovation gets results when it’s systemic, creative, experimental and gives real power to people experiencing marginalisation

But this is different to how most organisations make decisions, how many professionals are trained and, for the large part, how children are schooled:

  • Learning and training often puts more focus on complying with the rules of the game, rather than challenging them. 

  • Learning cultures often value being right over developing the skills to work through uncertainty and complexity.

  • Power imbalances and injustice are rarely on curriculums in a meaningful way – despite being perpetuated by every part of our society.  When power is on the curriculum,  more often than not, it’s  studied by people that already value equity.

But things don’t have to be this way

  • Imagine if… social innovation became an after school or weekend activity as popular as guides, surf lifesaving or football.

  • Imagine if…working in complexity was part of the training for political and social leaders.

  • Imagine if… ‘understanding power’ was a standard topic across all university courses.

  • Imagine if…becoming an Innovator in health or education was as aspirational a career as a Games Designer.

This is a glimpse of the world we want to collectively bring about through our Social Innovation Workforce strategy; children, community members, professionals, leaders of all kinds with the passion and capability for social innovation.

What is a Social Innovation Workforce?

Our best intentioned strategies to structurally address our biggest social challenges remain hamstrung by the lack of capacity and capability at scale to do social purpose innovation. 

We need people who are sufficiently equipped to tackle the tough problems we face,  to lead on the ground practice, and create the conditions for social purpose innovation. People who are adept at bringing the diverse wisdom of our communities, businesses and institutions together; innovating for greater outcomes for all Australians. 

Social innovation needs to move beyond discreet teams and programs that remain vulnerable to funding cycles to become a strong and dominant capability across society.

Find out more

Three steps toward this vision

  1. We want to join up the interest and passion across Australia's education, training and workforce development landscapes so we can work together to build an ecosystem to mainstream social innovation capabilities in Australia.

  2. We will expand access to the resources, courses and networks we’ve developed over the years. More freely sharing what we’ve learnt that works over twelve years of practice.

  3. We will continue to learn by doing – working side-by-side with NGOs, government, philanthropy and community teams to nurture their social innovation capabilities.

Why now?


Cultural awareness is shifting

The pandemic, Black Lives Matter, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the climate emergency have given us an increased appreciation of the interconnectedness of everything, the unfairness of most things and ultimately the need to think differently about how we live today.  This is a reality already obvious to First Nations people and many young people.


Change is afoot in our public service

Much has been written about the need for public servants to embrace approaches appropriate to the complexities with which they work (see, for example, Today’s Problems, Yesterday’s Toolkit by TACSI Board Director Rod Glover. Now, with the public service under new leadership, there is a renewed commitment to do something about it; to move away from the hollowing out of public expertise and to start rebuilding it.


Australia is putting increased focus on R&D

Australia has made a renewed call and commitment for greater investment into R&D. While the dominant conversation has been centred on tech-oriented economic growth, it’s logical to also extend this commitment to tackling costly social challenges and realising the long-term potential of the people they impact.

How to get involved

Are you looking for social innovation learning experiences?

Browse the TACSI Academy, our expanding catalogue of resources, courses and networks.

Visit the Academy

Want to take a learn-by-doing approach to build your social innovation capability?

Reach out to learn how we could support you with project coaching and side-by-side working.

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